The Story Of The First Dutch War


The causes of this war are differently stated, according to the humours

and opinions of different writers. The parliament, on the one side, was

jealous of its newly-acquired sovereignty, and expected extraordinary

marks of defference from the powers with which it corresponded. The

Dutch, on the other hand, were extremely alarmed when they found the

English Commonwealth insi
ting upon the sovereignty of the sea, the

right of fishing, and of licensing to fish, and disposed to carry the

point of saluting by the flag to the utmost limit. Under these

conditions of excitement and tension, anxiety led to watchfulness and

proximity to rupture.

It was in the spring of the year 1652 that the war broke out; but it was

warmly disputed then, and has not been fully settled since, who were the

actual aggressors. It is clear, however, that the Dutch had secretly

made great preparations for war, and had actually one hundred and fifty

ships of force at sea; whereas the English parliament had equipped no

more than the usual squadron for guarding the narrow seas, which was a

fleet of twenty-five ships under the command of Admiral Blake.

The first blood drawn in this quarrel was occasioned by Commodore Young,

who fired upon a Dutch man-of-war upon the captain's refusing him the

honour of the flag. This was on May 14th, 1652, and would have attracted

much more public attention if an engagement of greater consequence had

not happened immediately after.

Admiral Van Tromp was at sea with a fleet of upwards of forty sail, to

protect, as was given out, the Dutch trade. This fleet coming into the

Downs on May the 18th, met with a small squadron under the command of

Major Bourne, to whom the admiral sent word that he was forced in by

stress of weather; Bourne answered roundly, that the truth of this would

best appear by the shortness of his stay, and immediately sent advice of

it to his admiral. The next day, Van Tromp, with his fleet, bore down

upon Blake in Dover road, and on his coming near him Blake fired thrice

at his flag; upon which the Dutch admiral returned a broadside. For

nearly four hours Blake was engaged almost alone with the Dutch

squadron; but, by degrees, the weather permitted his fleet to come in to

his assistance. Towards the close of the engagement, which lasted from

four in the afternoon till nine at night, Bourne joined him with his

eight ships, upon which the enemy bore away.

In this battle the victory was clearly on the side of the English, as

the Dutch writers themselves confess, there being two Dutch ships taken

and one disabled; whereas the English lost none: and yet the forces were

very unequal; for the Dutch fleet consisted of forty-two ships and

Blake's at first only of fifteen; and even at the end of the fight of no

more than twenty-three. Each of the admirals wrote an account of this

affair to their respective masters, wherein they plainly contradict each

other: but with this difference, that there is no disproving any one

fact mentioned in Blake's letter; whereas there are several inaccuracies

in that of Van Tromp. The states themselves were so sensible of being in

the wrong, and at the same time so mortified that their fleet,

notwithstanding its superiority, had been beaten, that they apologised

for it, and sent over another ambassador, Adrian Paauw, to proceed with

the treaty. But the demands of the parliament were, in their opinion,

too high; so all thoughts of peace were dismissed on both sides, and war

was proclaimed in Holland on July 8th.

The English in the meantime, in virtue of the act of navigation, and by

way of reprisal for the late damages, affronts, and hostilities,

received from the states-general and their subjects, took many Dutch

ships. On June 11th Blake brought in eleven merchant ships with their

convoy coming from Nantes. On June 12th Captains Taylor and Peacock, in

two English frigates, engaged two Dutch men-of-war on the coast of

Flanders, for refusing to strike; one of which was taken and the other

stranded: and, on the 13th of the same month, Blake took twenty-six

merchant ships, with their convoys, homeward bound from France. On July

4th Vice-admiral Ayscue, who, on his late return from the reduction of

Barbadoes, had taken ten merchant ships and four men-of-war, attacked

the St. Ubes fleet of about forty sail, of which nearly thirty were

taken, burnt or stranded, and plundered, on the French coast.

After this, while the states with the utmost diligence were getting

ready a fleet of seventy men-of-war, under the command of Admiral Van

Tromp, Blake, with about sixty, received orders to sail to the north to

disturb and distress the Dutch fishery. Sir George Ayscue, who, since

the destruction of the St. Ubes fleet, had taken five Dutch merchant

ships, was left with the remainder of the English fleet, consisting of

no more than seven men-of-war, in the Downs. While Blake triumphed in

the north, Tromp, with his great fleet, came into the mouth of the

Thames, in the hope of either surprising Ayscue or of insulting the

coast. Failing in this, he sailed northward to intercept Blake; but his

ships being dispersed by a storm, he was disappointed in that scheme

also, and lost five or six frigates, which fell into the hands of Blake

on his return towards the south.

The people of Holland were very much dissatisfied with the conduct of

Admiral Van Tromp, who, first justifying himself to the states, laid

down his commission to gratify the people. The main objection against

him was his being no great seaman; and this engaged the states to cast

their eyes upon De Ruyter, the ablest man among them in his profession.

He accepted the command, but accepted it unwillingly; for he saw that

as things then stood the English were superior. The parliament, in the

meantime, took care to strengthen Sir George Ayscue's fleet, so that it

increased to thirty-eight sail; of which only two were large ships, and

the rest frigates and fire-ships. With these he put to sea in search of

the Dutch, took many rich prizes, and at last met with De Ruyter, who,

with a fleet equal to his own, was convoying home between fifty and

sixty merchantmen. This was on August 16th, 1652, and as our admiral was

cruising off Plymouth. It was about one in the afternoon when the fleets

came in sight. De Ruyter took twenty of the merchant ships into his line

of battle, and was then very ready to engage. The fight began about

four, when the English admiral, with nine others, charged through the

Dutch fleet, and having thus gained the weather-gauge, attacked them

again, and continued fighting till night parted them; the rest of Sir

George's fleet having very little to do in the action. The rear admiral,

Peck, lost his leg, and soon afterwards died; and most of the captains

who did their duty were wounded. One fire-ship was lost. On the other

side the Dutch were miserably torn, so that many of their best ships

were scarcely able to keep the sea. Sir George Ayscue followed them for

some time the next day, and then returned into Plymouth Sound to refresh

his men and to repair his ships.

Admiral Blake, who was now in the Channel, did infinite damage to the

enemy; and, some hostilities having been committed upon the coast of

Newfoundland by the French, he attacked a strong squadron of their ships

going to the relief of Dunkirk, and took or destroyed them all, by which

means this important place fell into the hands of the Spaniards. The

Dutch, seeing their trade thus ruined, and apprehensive of still worse

consequences, fitted out another fleet under the command of De Witte,

and sent it to join De Ruyter, who was appointed to bring home a large

number of merchantmen. After the junction of these fleets, and the

sending of their convoy into Holland, the admirals showed a design of

attacking the English navy, and Blake gave them a fair opportunity of

executing their intention. But when it came to the point the Dutch

fleet covered themselves behind a sandbank to avoid action.

Blake, however, engaged them on September the 28th, dividing his fleet

into three squadrons; the first commanded by himself, the second by

Vice-admiral Penn, and the third by Rear-admiral Bourne. It was about

three when the engagement began, and the English quickly discovered

their rashness in attacking an enemy under such disadvantages; for the

Sovereign, a new ship, struck immediately on the sands, and so did

several others; but, getting off again, the English fleet stood aloof

till De Witte came freely from his advantages to a fair engagement,

which was boldly begun by Bourne and gallantly seconded by the rest of

the fleet. A Dutch man-of-war, attempting to board the Sovereign, was

sunk by her side, and this by the first discharge she made. Soon after,

a Dutch rear-admiral was taken by Captain Mildmay, and two other

men-of-war sunk, a third blowing up before the end of the fight. De

Witte was then glad to retire, and was pursued by the English fleet as

long as it was light. The next day they continued the chase till they

were within twelve leagues of the Dutch shore, and then, seeing the

Dutch fleet entering into the Goree, Blake returned in triumph to the

Downs, and thence into port, having lost about three hundred men, and

having as many wounded. For the reception of the wounded the parliament

took care to provide hospitals near Dover and Deal, and on the return of

the fleet sent their thanks to the admiral and his officers.

It being now the beginning of November, Blake, who thought the season of

action over, detached twenty of his ships for the security of the

Newcastle colliers; twelve more were sent to Plymouth, and fifteen had

retired into the river, in order to repair the damage which they had

received in a storm. Admiral Tromp, who had again taken command, having

intelligence of this, and that Blake had with him no more than

thirty-seven ships, and many of these but thinly manned, resolved to

attack him in the Downs, not far from the place where they had fought

before. On November the 29th he presented himself before the English

fleet, and Blake, after holding a council of war, resolved to engage

notwithstanding the great superiority of the enemy; but the wind rising

they were obliged to defer fighting until the next day, and that night

our fleet rode a little above Dover road. In the morning, both fleets

plied westward, Blake having the weather-gauge. About eleven the battle

began with great fury; but, very unluckily for the English, half of

their small fleet could not engage. The Triumph, in which Blake was in

person, the Victory and the Vanguard bore almost the whole stress of

the fight, having twenty Dutch men-of-war upon them at once; and yet

they fought it out till it was dark. Late in the evening, the Garland,

commanded by Captain Batten, and the Bonaventure, Captain Hookston,

clapped Von Tromp aboard, killed his secretary and purser by his side,

and would certainly have taken his ship if they had not been boarded by

two Dutch flag-ships, by whom, after their captains were killed, both

these ships were taken. Blake, who saw this with indignation, pushed so

far to their relief that he was very near sharing the same fate, if the

Vanguard and Sapphire had not stood by him with the utmost

resolution and at last brought him off. The Hercules was run ashore in

the retreat, and if the night had not sheltered them most of the ships

that were engaged must have been lost; but they took the advantage of

its obscurity, and retired first to Dover and then into the river.

Admiral Tromp continued a day or two in the Downs, sailed from thence

towards Calais, took part of the Barbadoes fleet, and some other prizes,

and then sailed to the Isle of Rhe with a broom at his top-mast head,

intimating that he would sweep the narrow seas of English ships. There

appears, however, no such reason for boasting as the Dutch writers

suggest: their fleet had indeed many advantages; yet they bought their

success very dear, one of their best ships being blown up and two


The parliament showed their steadiness by caressing Blake after his

defeat, and naming him, in conjunction with Deane and Monk, their

generals at sea for another year. In order to the more speedy manning

the navy, they issued a proclamation, offering considerable rewards to

such as entered themselves within the term of forty days; they also

raised the sailors' pay from nineteen to twenty-four shillings a month:

and this had so good an effect that in six weeks' time they had a fleet

of sixty men-of-war ready to put to sea; forty under Blake in the river,

and twenty more at Portsmouth. On February 11th both fleets joined near

Beachy Head, and thence Admiral Blake sailed over against Portland,

where he lay across the Channel, in order to welcome Tromp on his

return. This was a surprise to the Dutch admiral, who did not think it

possible, after the late defeat, for the parliament to fit out, in so

short a period, a fleet capable of facing him again. He had between two

and three hundred merchant ships under convoy, and was therefore much

amazed when, sailing up the Channel, he found Blake so stationed that it

was impossible to avoid fighting. English and Dutch authors vary pretty

much as to the strength of their respective fleets; but, on comparing

the admirals' letters, they appear to have been nearly equal, each

having about seventy sail.

The Generals Blake and Deane were both on board the Triumph, and with

twelve stout ships led their fleet, and fell in first with the Dutch on

February the 18th, 1653, about eight in the morning. They were roughly

treated before the rest of the fleet came up, though gallantly seconded

by Lawson in the Fairfax, and Captain Mildmay in the Vanguard. In

the Triumph Blake was wounded in the thigh by a piece of iron which a

shot had driven, the same piece of iron tearing General Deane's coat and

breeches. Captain Ball, who commanded the ship, was shot dead and fell

at Blake's feet; his secretary, Mr. Sparrow, was likewise killed while

receiving his orders: besides whom he lost a hundred seamen, the rest

being most of them wounded and the ship so miserably shattered that it

had little share in the next two days' fights.

In the Fairfax there were a hundred men killed, the ship being

wretchedly mauled; the Vanguard lost her captain and a large number of

men. The Prosperous, a ship of forty-four guns, was boarded by De

Ruyter and taken; but, De Ruyter's ship being at that instant boarded by

an English man-of-war, Captain Vesey, in the Merlin frigate, entered

the Prosperous, and retook her. The Assistance, vice-admiral of the

blue squadron, was disabled in the beginning of the fight and brought

off to Portsmouth, whither the Advice quickly followed her, being no

longer able to keep the sea. Tromp, who was long engaged with Blake,

lost most of his officers and had his ship disabled; De Ruyter lost his

main and foretop mast, and very narrowly escaped being taken. One Dutch

man-of-war was blown up; six more were either sunk or taken.

Friday night was spent in repairing the damage and making the necessary

dispositions for a second engagement. On Saturday morning the enemy was

seen again seven leagues off Weymouth, whither the English plied, and

came up with them in the afternoon, about three leagues to the

north-west of the Isle of Wight. Tromp had again drawn his fleet

together, and ranged it in the form of a half-moon, enclosing the

merchant ships within a semi-circle; and in that posture he maintained a

retreating fight. The English made several desperate attacks, striving

to break through to the merchant ships; during which De Ruyter's ship

was again so roughly treated that she was towed out of the fleet. At

last the merchantmen, finding they could be no longer protected, began

to shift for themselves, throwing part of their goods overboard for the

greater expedition. According to Blake's own letter, eight men-of-war

and fourteen or sixteen merchant ships were taken, and the fight

continued all night.

On Sunday morning the Dutch were near Boulogne, where the fight was

renewed, but with little effect. Tromp had slipped away in the dark with

his merchantmen to Calais sands, where he anchored that day with forty

sail; the wind favouring him, he thence tided it home, our fleet

pursuing but slowly; for Blake, though he feared not Dutchmen, yet

dreaded their shallow coasts: however, the Captains Lawson, Martin, and

Graver, took each a Dutch man-of-war, and Penn picked up many of their

merchantmen. On the whole, the Dutch had the better of the fight the

first day, lost ground the second, and were clearly beaten the third.

They lost eleven men-of-war--their own accounts say but nine--thirty

merchantmen, fifteen hundred men killed, and as many wounded. As for the

English, they lost only the Sampson, which Captain Batten, finding

disabled, sank of his own accord; though it is certain our loss in

killed and wounded was little inferior to that of the Dutch.

Van Tromp now convoyed a great fleet of merchantmen by the north, trying

that route to escape the difficulties of the channel; whereupon our navy

followed him to Aberdeen, yet to no purpose: for he escaped them both

going and coming back, which gave him an opportunity of coming into the

Downs, making some prizes, and battering Dover Castle. This scene of

triumph lasted but a week; for on May 31st Tromp had intelligence that

Monk and Deane, who commanded the English fleet, were approaching, and

that their whole fleet consisted of ninety-five sail of men-of-war and

five fire-ships. The Dutch had ninety-eight men-of-war and six

fire-ships, and both fleets were commanded by men the most remarkable

for courage and conduct in either nation; so that it was generally

conceived this battle would prove decisive.

On June 2nd, in the morning, the English fleet discovered the enemy,

whom they immediately attacked with great vigour. The action began about

eleven o'clock, and the first broadside from the enemy carried off the

brave Admiral Deane, whose body was almost cut in two by a chain-shot.

Monk, with much presence of mind, covered his body with his cloak: and

here appeared the wisdom of having both admirals on board the same ship;

for as no flag was taken in the fleet had no notice of the accident, and

the fight continued with the same warmth as if it had not happened. The

blue squadron charged through the enemy, and Rear-admiral Lawson bid

fair for taking De Ruyter; and after he was obliged to leave his ship,

sank another of forty-two guns commanded by Captain Buller. The fight

continued very hot till three o'clock, when the Dutch fell into great

confusion, and Tromp saw himself obliged to make a kind of running

fight till nine in the evening, when a stout ship, commanded by

Cornelius van Velsen, blew up. This increased the consternation in which

they were before; and though Tromp used every method in his power to

oblige the officers to do their duty, and even fired upon such ships as

drew out of the line, yet it was to no purpose, but rather served to

increase their misfortune. In the night Blake arrived in the English

fleet with a squadron of eighteen ships, and so had his share in the

second day's engagement.

Tromp did all that was consistent with his honour to avoid fighting the

next day; but he would not do more, so that the English fleet came up

with him again by eight in the morning and engaged with the utmost fury;

the battle continued very hot for about four hours, and Vice-admiral

Penn boarded Tromp twice, and had taken him, if he had not been

seasonably relieved by De Witte and De Ruyter. At last the Dutch fell

again into confusion, which was so great, that a plain flight quickly

followed; and, instead of trusting to their arms, they sought shelter on

the flat coast of Newport, from whence, with difficulty enough, they

escaped to Zealand. Our writers agree that the Dutch had six of their

best ships sunk, two blown up, and eleven taken; six of their principal

captains were made prisoners, and upwards of fifteen hundred men. Among

the ships before-mentioned, one was a vice-admiral and two were

rear-admirals. The Dutch historians, indeed, confess the loss of but

eight men-of-war. On our side, Admiral Deane and one captain were all

the persons of note killed; of private men there were but few, and not a

ship was missing; so that a more signal victory could scarcely have been

obtained, or, indeed, desired. After this victory the Dutch sent

ambassadors to England to negotiate a peace almost on any terms.

The states were, however, far from trusting entirely to negotiations,

but, at the time they treated, laboured with the utmost diligence to

repair their past losses and to fit out a new fleet. This was a very

difficult task; and, in order to effect it, they were forced to raise

the seamen's wages, though their trade was at a full stop; they came

down in person to their ports, and saw their men embarked, and advanced

them wages beforehand, and promised them if they would fight once more

they would never ask them to fight again.

Yet all this would hardly have sufficed if the industry of De Witte, in

equipping their new-built ships, and the care and skill of Van Tromp in

refitting their old ones, and encouraging the seamen, had not succeeded

in equipping a fresh fleet, of upwards of ninety ships, by the latter

end of July, a thing admired then, and scarcely credible now. These were

victualled for five months; and the scheme laid down by the states was

to force the English fleet to leave their ports by coming to block up

ours. But first it was resolved Van Tromp should sail to the mouth of

the Texel, where De Ruyter, with twenty-five sail of stout ships, was

kept in by the English fleet, in order to try if they might not be

provoked to leave their station, and thereby give the Dutch squadron an

opportunity of coming out.

On July 29th, 1653, the Dutch fleet appeared in sight of the English,

upon which the latter did their utmost to engage them; but Van Tromp,

having in view the release of De Witte, rather than fighting, kept off;

so that it was seven at night before General Monk in the Resolution,

with about thirty ships, great and small, came up with him and charged

through his fleet. It growing dark soon after nothing more passed that

night, Monk sailing to the south and Van Tromp to the northward, by

which, unsuspected by the English, he both joined De Witte's squadron

and gained the weather-gauge. The next day proving very foul and windy,

the sea ran so high that it was impossible for the fleets to engage, the

English particularly finding it hard enough to avoid running upon the

enemy's coasts.

On Sunday, July 31st, the weather having become favourable, both fleets

engaged with terrible fury. The battle lasted at least eight hours, and

was the most hard fought fight of any that happened during the war. The

Dutch fire-ships being managed with great dexterity, many of the large

vessels in the English fleet were in the utmost danger of perishing by

them, and the Triumph was so effectually fired, that most of her crew

threw themselves into the sea; and yet the few who stayed behind

succeeded in extinguishing the flames. Lawson engaged De Ruyter briskly,

killed and wounded more than half his men, and so disabled his ship that

it was towed out of the fleet; whereupon the admiral, returning in a

galiot, went on board another ship. About noon, Van Tromp was shot

through the body with a musket-ball, as he was giving orders. This

effectually discouraged his countrymen, so that by two they began to

retreat in great confusion, having but one flag standing among them. The

lightest frigates in the English fleet pursued them closely, till the

Dutch admiral, perceiving they were but small and of no great strength,

turned his helm and resolved to engage them; but some larger ships

coming to their assistance, the Dutchman was taken. It was night by the

time their scattered fleet reached the Texel, while the English, fearing

their flats, rode warily about six leagues off.

This was a terrible blow to the Dutch, who, according to Monk's letter,

lost no less than thirty ships; but from better intelligence it appeared

that four of these had escaped, two into a port of Zealand, and two into

Hamburg. Their loss, however, was very great; five captains were taken

prisoners, between four and five thousand men killed, and twenty-six

ships of war either burnt or sunk. On the side of the English there were

two ships only, viz., the Oak and the Hunter frigate burnt, six

captains killed, and upwards of five hundred seamen. There were also six

captains wounded and about eight hundred private men.

The parliament then sitting ordered gold chains to be sent to the

Generals Blake and Monk, and likewise to Vice-admiral Penn and

Rear-admiral Lawson; they sent also chains to the rest of the

flag-officers, and medals to the captains. August 25th was appointed for

a day of solemn thanksgiving; and, General Monk being then in town,

Cromwell, at a great feast in the city, put the gold chain about his

neck, and obliged him to wear it all dinner-time. As for the states,

they supported their loss with inexpressible courage and constancy, and

buried Tromp with great magnificence at the public expense.

Hostilities between the two states had not continued quite two years,

and yet, in that time, the English took no less than one thousand seven

hundred prizes, valued by the Dutch themselves at sixty-two millions of

guilders, or nearly six millions sterling. On the contrary, those taken

by the Dutch did not amount to a fourth part either in number or value.

Within that period the English were victorious in no less than five

general battles, some of which were of several days' duration; whereas

the Hollanders cannot justly boast of having gained one; for the action

between De Ruyter and Ayscue, in which they pretended some advantage,

was no general fight; and the advantage gained by Tromp in the Downs is

owned to have been gained over a part only of the English fleet. Short

as this quarrel was, it brought the Dutch to greater extremities than

their eighty years of war with Spain.